SAN JOSE – Despite being home to some of the most destitute communities in Costa Rica, a successful environmental education program runs smoothly in the Brunca region. The community leaders, however, are firm believers in development that is harmonious with environmental conservation.
The Environmental Community Education Program of the La Amistad International Park and Buffer Zone (Educa-PILA in Spanish) promotes activities such as:
- Solid waste management
- Organic crops
- Rural tourism and hospitality management
- Micro coffee co-ops
- Best practices in poultry farming and beekeeping
Educa-PILA receives funding from the Debt-for-Nature swap program with the United States, and it is managed by the Conservationist Association of the Quercus Network, which consists of four community development associations that enjoy the support of the administration office of La Amistad International Park.
The Debt-for-Nature swap program is an idea that was posited by the World Wildelife Fund in the mid-1980s, after the Latin American debt crisis had fully matured and crippled the economies of Costa Rica and many other countries in the region. The debt collapse was precipitated by the oil crisis of the 1970s. High interest rates and the sudden depreciation of currencies against the U.S. dollar made Latin American debt unmanageable. Debt-for-Nature swaps allow countries with high amounts of outstanding debt to restructure loans by using borrowed funds specifically for nature conservation. In return, the participating nations get better repayment terms.
Bolivia was the first country to participate in a Debt-for-Nature swap with the U.S back in 1987. Costa Rica did not participate until 2007 because the country was repaying its defaulted debt through economic reform. In September 2007, Costa Rica partnered with The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International and negotiated a $26 million Debt-for-Nature swap with the U.S. The idea is to improve the lives of impoverished communities in La Amistad International Park so that factors like water quality, ecotourism and carbon footprint reduction can increase productivity and the economy at large, thereby making it easier to repay debt.
How Educa-PILA Works
The Quercus Network began operating in 2008 by community leaders who recognized the need to protect nature as being intrinsic to sustainable development, and thus Educa-PILA was born. This program is in line with the goals of the Conservation Areas System of Costa Rica (SINAC) and the Ministry of Public Education.
Ana Laura Quiros Montoya, administrator of the Quercus Network, explained how Educa-PILA works:
“The only way we can solve anything is by teaching people solutions. [Through Educa-PILA] we are proving to Costa Rica and the rest of the world that it is possible to conserve and produce at the same time. Teaching conservation in our schools helps to plant a seed of environmental formation in the future citizens of our nation.
Educa-PILA works in 32 grade schools and five high schools for about 1,250 children and 200 adolescents, in addition to organized groups that are not necessarily affiliated to the Quercus Network. We teach them to be productive, meaning that we don’t just give them things; we give them tools, ideas and motivation so that they can develop their own projects.“
The Quercus Network also supports cultural endowment, and to this extent organizes fairs where adults are the target audience to teach them about the region’s importance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This year marks the 30th anniversary since 400,000 hectares of La Amistad became a World Heritage Site.
“This region has the most dense concentration of Quercus oleoides forest in the world. We are proudly named after this encino tree, which is abundant in our unique tropical forest. Our pioneering effort that is changing people’s way of thinking insofar as their relation with the environment and sustainable development.”
The Quercus Network promotes development and social growth with opportunities that guarantee the long-term conservation of the La Amistad International Park and its communities in the Pacific region of the Talamanca Mountainous Range. The Quercus Network is made up by the following environmental organizations:
- Biolley Women’s Association (ASOMOBI)
- Tres Colinas Tourism Association (ASOTUR)
- Santa Maria de Brunka Ecotourism Chamber (ACETUSAMA)
- Women’s Supporting Harmony with Nature and the Environment for the Well-Being of Families (AMANABIF)